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Julia G. Thompson | @TeacherAdvice

Julia G. Thompson | @TeacherAdvice

Julia G. Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. She has been a teacher in the public schools of Virginia, Arizona, and North Carolina for more than thirty-five years. Thompson has taught a variety of courses, including freshman composition at Virginia Tech, English in all of the secondary grades, mining, geography, reading, home economics, math, civics, Arizona history, physical education, special education, graduation equivalency preparation, and employment skills. Her students have been diverse in ethnicity as well as in age, ranging from seventh graders to adults. Thompson currently teaches in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she is an active speaker and consultant. Author of Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, First-Year Teacher’s Checklist, The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, and The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide Professional Development Training Kit, Thompson also provides advice on a variety of subjects through her Web site, www.juliagthompson.com; on her blog, juliagthompson.blogspot.com; and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TeacherAdvice.

Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

Classroom distractions are not limited to students. We teachers can be just as off task as our students without being fully aware of the extent of problem. It is not always easy to be completely focused on teaching or even our students all class long. We all experience legitimate distractions from time to time—an illness in our families or our own fatigue, for example.


However, those teachers who are so distracted that they do not fully attend to their students will have to deal with many more discipline problems than those teachers who are focused on the people and activity in their classrooms.  How guilty are you? The questions below may help you gauge the level of distraction you may be experiencing each school day.


Do you grade papers in class?

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Posted by on in Social Emotional Learning

Here is a brief except from The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide designed to help you remove the barriers that can hinder peer acceptance in a classroom.

Although it is important for teachers to make it easy for their students to work together well, the undertaking requires diplomacy as well as dedicated efforts. Social inclusion is such a vital aspect of any student’s life, however, that the effort often results in beneficial dividends. Begin by identifying some of the barriers that could have a negative effect on your students.

          What are some of the most common barriers to social acceptance in school? Many students could feel excluded because they do not know their classmates. It is a mistake to assume that students know each other well. Even students who have attended school together for several years may not know much about their classmates.

          Another barrier is that your students may live in different neighborhoods. If you teach in a school where students may live at a distance or come from very diverse neighborhoods, it is likely that they have not had very many opportunities to interact with each outside of school.

          In addition, students who have not been taught how to behave courteously or who have not learned socially acceptable ways to resolve conflict often struggle to form appropriate relationships with their peers.

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Posted by on in Classroom Management

Missing school is harder for teachers than many other professionals because not only do we have to leave appropriate plans and information so that substitute teachers can manage our classes while we are out, but also because even the best of students tend to have the classic, “Oh boy! We have a sub!” reaction. Unless you have done everything possible to ensure that your students will still learn while you are absent, you will return to deal with the miserable aftermath of a disasterous school day.

Being able to miss school without worries about your students and all the things that are going wrong in your absence is possible with a bit of planning and preparation. First of all, very early in the school year, create a binder filled with helpful information that any substitute teacher can use. When you change seating charts, add or drop students, or when other significant changes occur, update your binder. Here are some items that you may want to include in your sub binder.

  • Class rosters with helpful pronunciation clues
  • A photo seating chart. Photograph your students sitting in their assigned seats. Print these and write the name of your students under their photos. Your sub will know where students are supposed to sit and will be able to match names to faces right away.
  • Medical information for students with chronic illnesses such as asthma or diabetes
  • Your daily class and duty schedule
  • Classroom procedures for daily routines such as lunch, restroom requests, fire drills, and other emergencies
  • A list of several activities that students can do if they finish early. You can generate this list early in the year so that it is handy just in case you are rushed for time later.
  • A map of the school with exits and fire extinguishers marked
  • Copies of all necessary forms such as lunch or attendance counts
  • Names and room numbers of helpful teachers
  • A phone number where you can be reached

Next, make sure to leave workable plans that even the most harried sub can follow.

  • Your lesson plans for any day that you are going to miss should be specifically written for the sub.
  • Provide plenty of directions and a suggested time length for each assignment.
  • Do plan independent written work that will be collected and graded.
  • Make sure to photocopy, label, and organize all handouts.
  • Leave work that will occupy students, but that is not merely busy work.
  • Avoid computer use, videos, media center visits, and activities involving scissors or other sharp tools.

Finally, it’s important to involve students in a positive way in maintaining the order and routines of the class when you need to be absent.

  • Having students be aware of their specific responsibilities is a positive way to enlist their cooperation. Consider having students generate a list of the ways that they can be helpful for a sub. This is one class discussion that does not have to take very long, but that will result in a smoother day for everyone when you have to miss school.
  • Have them take a pledge of cooperation. Signing a written promise to work hard and behave well makes your expectations clear as well as puts the responsibility on them.
  • Assign tasks such as turning in attendance or passing out papers. Convince them to be helpful instead of disruptive.
  • Make cooperation fun. Let it be an intriguing class challenge. Have them set goals for themselves and work to meet those goals.
  • Best of all, make it their responsibility. When students own a situation, they will more often than not rise to the occasion and exceed even our highest expectations.

If your students have misbehaved while you were out, however, don’t rush to punish. First, have students write out their version of the events of the class. Read these, and think about what you are going to do before you punish an entire class or even individual students based on what a substitute teacher has told you. If you then have to deal with misbehavior after you have gathered the facts from the sub and from your students, strive to be fair.

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

Excerpted from Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher

“It is no secret that the relationship we build with our students affects their success. A positive relationship with our students is one of our strongest defenses against disruptive behavior.

Often we try to stop misbehavior with a flurry of negative commands and injunctions against behaviors that students find more natural than the more formal or productive ones we try to teach. Many students can recite dozens of things they know they should not do. If those same students are asked to tell what their five greatest strengths are, however, many would be at a loss.

While it would be wrong to unfairly praise or encourage students for behaviors that are not acceptable to their future success, the negative attitudes that many of us carry to school with us are just as wrong. Although it is natural that we should spend so much time in our profession dealing with the errors our students make or with the things they should not do or with what’s wrong, we do need to balance this negativity by focusing on our students’ successes or strengths as well.

The long-term rewards that accrue when we focus on our students’ strengths are partly the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When our students believe they can do some things correctly, they are going to be brave enough to take that extra risk that will generate even more success. Hateful or unkind comments, on the other hand, will destroy even the bravest student’s confidence.

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Posted by on in Social Emotional Learning

One of the most important responsibilities that all teachers have to manage successfully when they meet their students for the first time is to create a positive and welcoming atmosphere where students are made to feel valued, capable, and eager to return for a second class. This responsibility becomes even more crucial if you teach students who have not been successful in the past or who struggle to succeed. Often this unpleasant past experience will result in classes and students who view themselves in a negative way. While changing this mindset may seem daunting, it can be made easier with just a bit of thought and effort.

               One way to guarantee that your students will leave their first meeting with you with an optimistic attitude about school and your class is to deliberately give the entire group a positive identity. Here is a brief excerpt from The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide with advice on how to give your students a positive group identity right from the start.

               “Unless you create a positive identity for your class, students may take your smallest correction of their misbehavior to mean that you think of them as troublesome. This will happen even more quickly if students in your class have struggled with school in the past. Once a group starts to think of itself in a negative way, it is almost impossible to change the group’s self-perception into a positive one.

               Sometimes students have been dragging this negativity around for years. If you can eliminate the negative image and give your class a positive self-image, you will all benefit. This is no easy task, however. What you must do is make a conscious effort to praise and reinforce your class’s positive group attributes. Thus, you will promote the group’s desirable behaviors and extinguish the group’s negative ones.

               Even difficult classes can have positive attributes. If a group is very talkative, for example, you can put a positive twist on it and praise the students for their sociability. To create a positive group image, you must find and reinforce students’ positive attributes. Here’s how:

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